The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014


Meredith L. MCGill

Distracted, perhaps, by novels' own claims to novelty—what Ian Watt has identified as the form's primary criterion of “truth to individual experience...which is always unique and therefore new” (1957, The Rise of the Novel, 13)—or by the novel's long association with the news, ephemera, and fashion (see JOURNALISM), literary critics often fail to account for the role of reprinting in the history of the genre. Bibliographers and collectors overwhelmingly privilege first editions, despite the fact that later editions were often more valued by authors, printers, and readers, owing to the correction of errata. (Benjamin Franklin's witty epitaph for himself imagines his body reissued after death “In a new and more elegant Edition/Revised and corrected/By the Author.”) Even Franco Moretti's experimental, quantitative account of the rise and fall of the novel across a number of national traditions measures only the production of new novels, not reprinted ones (2005, Graphs, Maps, Trees). Despite the emphasis critics place on first editions, the small print runs of novels in the 1700s and early 1800s, which James Raven estimates averaged 500—750 copies, suggest that any novel that gained significant purchase with readers in this period did so by virtue of successive waves of reprinting. Taking reprinting seriously as a factor in the history of the novel can illuminate the cultural life of individual works—both the pace of a novel's initial acceptance by its readers and the strength and nature of its explanatory power long after the time in which it was written. Reprinting also helps to explain how the fortunes of the genre have been tied to expanded literacy and the demand for cheap reading (see PUBLISHING). Along with translation, adaptation, and abridgment, reprinting is one of the primary ways in which publishers target new audiences for novels. Although we have become accustomed to tight control over intellectual property, throughout most of the novel's history the uneven global distribution of intellectual property rights allowed for significant experiments in unauthorized reprinting (see COPYRIGHT). national literary traditions have been more influenced by reprinted foreign novels than nationally framed literary criticism is generally willing to acknowledge.

A tremendous amount of what we ordinarily think of as printing is, technically, reprinting, defined as the resetting of type—i.e., printing not from manuscripts, but from already printed texts (see TYPOGRAPHY). Prior to the development and popular use of stereotype and electrotype technologies in the early 1800s, publishers who sought to profit by publishing multiple editions of a work were forced to incur the considerable cost of recomposing the text (see PAPER AND PRINT). While pages that were difficult to set up, such as title pages, might be left in standing type in anticipation of further printings, publishers frequently found themselves scrambling to meet unanticipated demand for a particular work, hiring compositors to reset the text not long after the first edition had left the printshop. The history of reprinting of a particular novel can offer a good index of the time lag between initial publication and popular acceptance. For instance, Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719—22) was reprinted three times in the four months following its initial London publication, with three more editions following in the next six years, along with numerous abridgments, sequels, and translations. By contrast, Raven estimates that close to two-thirds of English novels first published between 1770 and 1800 never saw a second edition.

A history of reprinting can also offer considerable insight into a publisher's projections for a work. For instance, while Nathaniel Hawthorne's publishers assumed that The Scarlet Letter (1850) would do well, printing an uncharacteristically large edition of 2,500 copies, popular demand for Hawthorne's controversial “Custom House” introduction outstripped supply, prompting Ticknor & Fields to reset the type and to reprint another 2,500 copies within two months of the first publication. Still unaware that they had an incipient classic on their hands, Ticknor & Fields neglected at this time to invest in stereotype plates, and thus were forced to pay to reset the type for a third time just four months later when they finally stereotyped the book.

Reprinting is fundamental to the internal dynamics of the printshop, testifying to publishers' careful calculations about supply and demand for printed works. It has also long been a crucial factor in the regional, national, and international circulation of print. It was Scottish reprinters such as Alexander Donaldson (1727—94) who forced the courts in Millar v. Taylor (1769) and Donaldson v. Becket (1774) to define the nature and limits of British copyright law. English publishers largely ignored Scottish reprinters, who supplied their home market with cheap reprints of English texts, until Donaldson brazenly opened a shop in London in 1763, undercutting London booksellers by as much as 30—50 percent. The copyright case that bears Donaldson's name served as a turning point in British law, establishing copyright as a statutory right of limited duration (rather than a perpetual right under the common law), instantly transforming many of the most valuable English works from private into public property. The sudden availability for reprinting of texts by long-dead authors such as William Shakespeare and John Milton, and more recent texts by Daniel Defoe, James Thomson, and Henry Fielding arguably helped popularize the very notion of classic texts in English. In the wake of Donaldson v. Becket, literary works with expired copyrights joined early modern steady-sellers such as the Bible, catechisms, and primers as books that could be freely reprinted in a variety of editions for a wide range of potential readers. The first successful English reprint series was John Bell's Poets of Great Britain (1777—92), which ran to 109 volumes and sold for one shilling and sixpence each. This venture was soon followed by reprint series that featured English and foreign novels, such as James Harrison's The Novelist's Magazine (1779—88) and John Cooke's Select Novels (1793—95). Harrison's series of 23 volumes, which sought in its format and title to capitalize on the connection between the genre of the novel and the currency of the magazine, printed entire works by Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Oliver Goldsmith, Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne, and Eliza Haywood, along with translated continental fiction by authors such as Voltaire and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Cooke's pocket-size sixpenny volumes and Harrison's series helped consolidate a canon of respectable novels by making selected works affordable for readers outside the bounds of the circulating libraries (see LIBRARY).

Reprinting works that had fallen out of copyright protection had by the nineteenth century become an important segment of the trade, enabling both highbrow ventures such as the handsomely bound, fifty-volume series The British Novelists (1810), prefaced by a substantial introductory essay on the history of the novel by Anna Letitia Barbauld, and remainder-dealer Thomas Tegg's cheap, unreliable reprints and abridgments aimed at the very bottom of the market. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the success of Tegg's reprints, and of cheap publication in England's breakaway American colony, helped to put downward pressure on the notoriously high price of English books and to widen the circle of novel-readers. After the thriving Irish reprint trade was brought under British copyright by the Act of Union (1800), closing down a vexing source of cheap texts illegally smuggled back into England and opening the Irish market to English publishers, many of the most successful Irish publishers and tradesmen emigrated to the U.S. Irish reprinters brought to the new republic both well-honed publishing and marketing strategies and an acute sense of the vulnerability of provincial reprinting to the forces of centralized capital.

In the U.S., the publishing system was defined by reprinting from the Copyright Act of 1790 well into the twentieth century. The same law that granted copyright to American citizens and residents explicitly denied such rights to foreign authors, bestowing on American publishers an extraordinary license, that of the unrestricted republication of foreign texts. The American legal rejection of foreign authors' rights proved a boon for the circulation of British novels, which in many cases first achieved mass readership outside the boundaries of Great Britain. For instance, Clarence Brigham has noted over a hundred editions of Crusoe published in America between 1774 and 1830. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia publishers famously competed to be the first to reprint Walter Scott's Waverley novels (1814—28), setting type as soon as packet ships carrying the latest novel arrived on the docks. The success of the Waverley series helped American publishers establish the size of the market for popular novels. The competition to capture market share led publishers such as Carey and Lea of Philadelphia and Harper Brothers in New York to develop more efficient and ambitious printing and distribution systems, paying Scott and his publisher for advance sheets of the novels and nurturing contacts with booksellers in far-flung Southern and western cities.

By the 1840s, American authors and some publishers began to push for the passage of an international copyright law, but their efforts were blocked by tradesmen, chief among them newly unionized typographers, who argued that stereotype technology, when combined with copyright, would give London publishers too much power over the American market. When literary nationalists protested that American authors could not compete with the flood of cheap reprints of popular British novels, members of the print trades responded with a canny analysis of the politics of book distribution, arguing that, with the backing of an international copyright law, heavily capitalized London publishers could potentially print off large American editions from British-made plates, greatly benefiting from economies of scale. Opponents of the law worried that international copyright would enable London publishers to supply books to the American market at high prices without the risk of underselling, maintaining a stranglehold on American reading. Reprint publishers contrasted the democratizing virtues of the frequent resetting of type with the dangers of centralized media, arguing that reprinting allowed for local control over the circulation of print and for a more equitable distribution of profits. In their view, multiple American editions of foreign works were not excessive or inefficient, but proof of the general diffusion of knowledge and of the benefits of competition between and among small-entrepreneur publishers. Instead of viewing the burgeoning reprint market as a sign of colonial dependency, those opposed to international copyright claimed that national values were instantiated in processes of production. One identified an American book by its physical appearance—by its cheap paper and closely set lines of type, enabling a novel that had been published in three expensive volumes to be compressed into two or one—and not by its contents or by the nationality of its author.

For most of the 1800s, international copyright advocates' appeals for the regulation of the book trade through universal respect for authors' rights were no match for the realities of a decentralized American literary marketplace—the difficulty of transporting printed matter between and among scattered cultural centers; the new nation's appetite for high-culture works in mass-culture formats; and the profits to be made in an uncertain, expanding market by publishing works that had already proved popular with readers. While supporters of an international copyright law chiefly sought to bring order to the transatlantic book trade, opponents defended a system that served the publishers of newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets, as well as books. Reprinting occurred across a variety of formats: poetry and tales that were first published in expensively bound gift books reappeared as filler in local newspapers; entire novels were closely printed in double-columned pages and sold for as little as 12½ cents; and elite British magazines were reprinted in their entirety or mined for essays that were reassembled into regionally published, eclectic magazines.

While American opposition to internal copyright was successful in blocking proposed laws and treaties, it did not prevent the consolidation of publishers' power. Faced with potentially ruinous undercutting, reprint publishers developed a system of de facto copyright known as “courtesy of the trade,” in which a newspaper announcement of the intent to publish a foreign work informally carried the weight of a property claim. This kind of gentlemanly agreement enabled reprint publishers to invest considerable sums in stereotyped editions of foreign authors' collected works without the threat of competition. Publishers secured informal rights in foreign texts by advertising their association with a particular author and by voluntarily sending payments to foreign authors (or their publishers) to establish goodwill, to obtain advance sheets of their books, and for the right to produce authorized editions. Such extra-legal arrangements, enforced by campaigns of retaliation when printers broke with the custom of voluntary restraint, continued to regulate the reprint trade throughout this period, despite the fact that they were unenforceable at law.

The profits to be made through authorized or unauthorized reprinting of British novels were substantial, so long as rivals could be kept at bay. During the depression of 1837—43, weekly newspapers such as Brother Jonathan (1842—43) and The New World (1840—45) engaged in cutthroat competition, reprinting popular British novels and French novels in translation on enormous folio newspaper sheets and in quarto size as “extra issues,” sold to enhance circulation of the periodical. These newspaper supplement-novels were printed in the tens of thousands, hawked on street corners, and circulated at favorable rates through the mail. While competition from better-capitalized book publishers and changes to the postal code ultimately brought an end to the cheap weeklies, they successfully demonstrated the viability of cheap printing on a massive scale—aiming for narrow profit margins on high-volume sales—in a widely literate and expanding nation. On his 1842 tour of the U.S., Charles Dickens was both thrilled and horrified to discover the extent to which unauthorized reprints of his novels had preceded him.

Dickens had included the humble and oppressed in his novels as objects of sympathy, but cheap American reprints of his fiction enabled them to be drawn into the orbit of literary culture as actual or potential readers. Dickens was warmly welcomed by his American audience: statesmen and literati staged lavish banquets in his honor, and every stage of his trip was covered obsessively by local newspapers. But the tour became something of a public-relationsdisaster as Dickens's insistence on speaking publicly on behalf of an international copyright law was met with incredulity and suspicion. Dickens seemed unaware that his popularity was a function of the system of reprinting he continued publicly to attack, while many Americans interpreted his advocacy of international copyright as mercenary and ungrateful. Dickens's encounter with his American readers left him with an acute sense of vulnerability to the mass public which sought to embrace him.

Although in advocating foreign authors' rights Dickens thought he was championing both his own cause and that of American novelists, crowded out of the market by foreign competition, reprinting did not simply hinder the growth of the American novel. Even as publishers such as Harper Brothers built substantial enterprises publishing uncopyrighted texts, they began to make different kinds of investments in the American texts that, thanks to copyright, they controlled outright. In addition to stimulating book production in the early republic, American copyright law's uneven disposition of property rights did much to shape the distinctive character of American publishing. Authorized editions, complete with frontispiece portraits and facsimile signatures, became a popular way for reprint publishers to distinguish their editions. Other publishers attempted to discourage rivals by saturating the market with editions at every conceivable price point. Philadelphia publisher T. B. Peterson and Brothers, for example, advertised thirteen different octavo editions of Charles Dickens's works bound in seven different styles, two different illustrated editions, and a “People's Duodecimo,” available in eight different binding styles; prices ranged from $9 to $75 for a complete set. Reprinting also conferred a new kind of value on illustrations. While type could easily be reset, engravings were more difficult and expensive to reproduce, enabling publishers to secure property in their texts by investing heavily in ornamental plates, a practice that Hugh Amory has called “proprietary illustration.”

Reprinting shaped the course of numerous American novelists' careers, as authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain sought to acquire de facto international copyright by carefully coordinating the publication of their works at home and abroad. Until the mid-1800s, it was widely assumed that prior or simultaneous publication of an American work in Great Britain would be enough to confer British copyright. However, in Jeffreys v. Boosey (1854) the House of Lords determined that a foreign author needed to travel to Britain in order to claim copyright protection. This ruling produced a wave of British reprints of American works and a number of strategically timed trips to London by American authors so that they could claim copyright on newly printed novels. When the House of Lords amended this ruling in 1868 to extend copyright to foreign authors who resided anywhere in the British dominions, many American novelists chose to travel to Canada during the time of their books' London publication so as to acquire what came to be known as a “Canadian copyright.”

Although for much of the nineteenth century American publishers were caricatured as ruthless pirates of foreign works, British and European publishers also derived great benefit from the lack of international copyright. French publishers Galignani & Baudry, which specialized in providing British tourists with cheap editions of the latest London books, reprinted numerous novels by James Fenimore Cooper, themselves often copied from British reprints. German publisher Bernhard Tauchnitz (1816—95) published hundreds of volumes of British and American works in a numbered series for circulation throughout the Continent, paying authors nominal sums for the right to advertise these volumes as “author's editions” or “copyright editions” (some of which were actually covered by copyright in select European nations in the wake of the 1846 Anglo-German copyright agreement and other bilateral treaties). Many authors considered having a novel reprinted by Tauchnitz to be a mark of international recognition. The standardized, plain style of Tauchnitz editions made them easily recognizable across Europe, the series itself a hallmark of affordability, portability, and literary quality. Although merely a cheap reprint, the Tauchnitz edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860) was frequently rebound by Italian booksellers as a keepsake, including numerous photographs of artworks and landmarks mentioned in Hawthorne's Rome as well as blank pages for tourists to paste into the novel photos they had purchased or taken on their trip (see PHOTOGRAPHY).

By far the most impressive and consequential example of an American novel's European career was the popular reprinting of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Stowe's novel was a runaway bestseller in the U.S., with over three hundred thousand copies sold in the first year of publication, but its domestic sales paled next to the novel's success in Great Britain, where over a million copies were reportedly sold within a year of publication. The circulation of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Britain far exceeded that of Scott's or Dickens's novels, and its rapid translation into numerous European languages was taken as a sign of the persuasiveness and power of the abolitionist movement. The novel's success tested the norms of copyright in the U.S., where the Supreme Court ruled in Stowe v. Thomas (1853) that Stowe's copyright in her work did not extend to its German translation. The novel also opened American publishers' eyes to the potentially enormous foreign market for American fiction.

American fiction was well represented in numerous British and European reprint series: Richard Bentley's “Standard Novels” (1831—55) included novels by Cooper and Charles Brockden Brown; Henry Bohn's “Standard Library,” launched in 1846, included numerous works of fiction by Washington Irving; George Routledge's “Railway Library,” begun in 1848, provided cheap editions for British railway passengers, including novels by Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Susan Warner. Routledge was successful enough to establish a branch in New York in 1854 to manage his publication of American works, including a series of dime novels called “Beadle's American Sixpenny Library.” British publishers developed similar reprint series designed for the colonial market. John Murray published the “Colonial and Home Library” between 1843 and 1849, aiming “to furnish the settler in the back-woods of America and the occupant of the remotest cantonments of our Indian dominions with the resources of recreation and instruction at a moderate price.” This short-lived series failed in the U.S. largely due to competition from cheap domestic reprints, but it also suffered by neglecting novels in favor of more edifying works: Melville's Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) were published as nonfiction alongside other travel narratives, works of history, and biography. When Macmillan began its “Colonial Library” series in 1886, targeted at the growing ranks of Indian readers as well British officers and expatriates, it made a point of emphasizing fiction. Trial and error established that the real profits in India were to be made through the simultaneous printing of popular British novels (with sheets set aside to be shipped to the Subcontinent) and not through reprinting. And yet Macmillan's Colonial Library was nonetheless centrally shaped by the tradition of cheap reprinting: the series was self-consciously designed as a colonial version of the Tauchnitz editions and motivated by the desire to short-circuit the importation into India of cheap American reprints of British novels. Macmillan's aim in publishing cheap editions for sale in India, Australia, and New Zealand was to secure colonial markets for British publishing without threatening the higher price of books in Britain; many of these books included on their title pages the proviso “Only for sale in India and the Colonies.”

Throughout the 1800s, international copyright was governed by a patchwork of bilateral treaties, allowing for considerable experimentation in the interstices of these agreements. Britain signed reciprocal copyright agreements with a number of German states in 1844, with Prussia in 1846, with France, Belgium, and Spain in 1852, with Sardinia in 1861, Venice and Mantua in 1867, and Rome in 1870. Under the leadership of Victor Hugo, the French Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale drafted the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, creating a legal and administrative framework for the international protection of literary property. Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Haiti adopted the Berne Convention in 1887. The mounting numbers of international copyright treaties made the U.S.'s refusal to enter into such arrangements seem anomalous; by the 1880s, the tide was turning in favor of an international copyright agreement of some sort. In 1878, the British Copyright Commission tendered a blistering report on the obscurity and inconsistency of British law, strongly recommending that Great Britain accept American protectionist demands that copyrighted foreign works be manufactured in America. In brokering the Chace Act, which became U.S. law in 1891, American copyright advocates acceded to the demands of the International Typographical Union, which insisted that foreign works could be copyrighted only if they were produced from type set or plates made within the borders of the U.S. This provision remained in force through the 1950s, when both Britain and America ratified the Universal Copyright Convention (1952), a treaty that eliminated trade protections.

In the wake of the Chace Act, British publishers expanded their American operations while British authors began to demand higher royalties, expecting increased profits from American editions. British publishers had to make careful calculations about costs, however; where the risk of reprinting was low, it was often more economical to forgo international copyright, to publish the book or print the sheets in England, and to settle for whatever profits might be made from exporting the British edition. As the U.S. became a net exporter of literary and cultural works, American publishers began to seek more uniform international treatment of their properties, but disagreements concerning fundamental aspects of the Berne agreement, such as minimum terms, registration requirements, and moral rights for copyright holders (including the “right of paternity,” or attribution, and “right of integrity,” or protection against distortion or intentional destruction of a work) kept the U.S. from joining the largest and most important multilateral copyright agreement. So long as the U.S. remained outside the Berne Convention, American publishers fell back on a familiar nineteenth-century strategy for securing rights, approximating international copyright protection through the simultaneous publication of literary works in the U.S. and in a Berne country such as Canada. After significant changes in American copyright law in 1976 and 1988, the way was paved for the U.S. to join the Berne Convention in 1989. Because the Berne agreement lacked enforcement mechanisms, however, in the 1970s the U.S. government began to attach the protection of intellectual property to trade agreements. As of 1994, membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) requires countries to accept nearly all the conditions of the Berne agreement.

While popular novels were at the center of nineteenth-century debates over international copyright, the rights to software, digital music, and video have taken center stage in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century disputes about intellectual property. Although reprinting is still a factor in publishers' calculations about the marketing of novels, unauthorized reprinting has gone underground as all but a few countries participate in the WTO. Popular novels such as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (1995—2007) continue to be pirated in China and India, however, and many publishers worry that the illegal digital distribution of novels over file-sharing sites will threaten the small margins they earn on all but the most popular titles. Nevertheless, the extension of intellectual property rights across ever-wider geographical spaces and their extension in time has worked to curtail the practice of reprinting. The gradual increase in the length of terms of copyright, driven in part by the demands of international treaties and in part by increasing corporate interest in controlling global rights to creative works, has made the experience of a popular novel coming out of copyright and becoming part of the public domain an unfamiliar one. The U.S. Copyright Extension Act (1998), popularly called the Sonny Bono Act, protects works for the duration of the author's life plus 70 years, while works of corporate authorship are granted copyright for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first.

If recent legal and diplomatic developments have clamped down on unauthorized reprinting, copyright advocacy groups such as Creative Commons, which established a system of licenses to permit creators to reproduce, adapt, and distribute their work, and digital entrepreneurs such as Google Books have succeeded in putting reprinting right back at the center of controversy. Google's ambitious plan to digitize and make accessible the holdings of entire libraries threatens the very premise of copyright—controlling distribution by restricting copying—insofar as it requires that digital copies be made before the question of rights is determined. Google has maintained that the digital reproduction of works in the public domain and of copyrighted books that are out of print is necessary for these works (or brief selections from them) to show up in online searches. It proposed that, rather than delaying scanning until owners could be found for indeterminate or “orphan” works, copyright holders be permitted to opt out of its scheme (well underway, with over seven million books scanned by 2008), preventing the online display of already digitized books. In this scanning project, expanded access to print in digital form and the profits to be derived by copyright holders through Google's search algorithm both depend on unauthorized reprinting on a massive scale. It remains to be seen whether mass-digitization projects such as Google Books will force changes in a law designed for the protection of printed works, or whether the inflexibility of copyright law will produce creative workarounds in print and digital publishing.

SEE ALSO: Authorship, Censorship, Class, Editing, National Literature, Reading Aloud, Reviewing.


1. Altick, R.D. (1998), English Common Reader.

2. Barnes, J.J. (1974), Authors, Publishers, and Politicians.

3. Brigham, C.S. (1958), Bibliography of American Editions of Robinson Crusoe to 1830.

4. Exman, E. (1965), Brothers Harper.

5. Johns, A. (2010), Piracy.

6. Joshi, P. (2002), In Another Country.

7. Leaffer, M. (2009), “American Copyright Law since 1945,” in History of the Book in America, ed. D.P. Nord, J. Shelley Rubin, M. Schudson, and D.D. Hall.

8. Matthews, B. (1889), American Authors and British Pirates.

9. McGill, M.L. (2003), American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834—1853.

10. Nowell-Smith, S. (1968), International Copyright Law and the Publisher in the Reign of Queen Victoria.

11. Putnam, G. (1891), Question of Copyright.

12. Raven, J. (2000), “Historical Introduction,” in English Novel, 1770—1829.

13. St. Clair, W. (2004), Reading Nation in the Romantic Period.

14. Williams, S.S. (1997), Confounding Images.